AMELIA was going to road it to me. And as it was so important and mysterious, she gave it a preparatory perusal.
“Well! Do they feed the bulls on cake in England ? ” she inquired.
“Read me the context,” I said.
She read. “‘You’ve sixty-seven, and you don’t cake. You’ve broken the lease in that respect. You ’re dragging the heart out of the farm.’ ”
“In England,” I said, opening my eyes, “they feed the bulls largely on oilcake made of cotton seed in the United States, — after we have used it to make the patent lard and the soap that floats.”
She continued to scan the literary score; and while she was preparing herself I put my feet up, and resumed my train of thought, to wit: —
A figure of speech unites the strong and obvious with the coy and hidden, and everybody is joyed in the marriage and the child, especially if the union be properly done in the monogamic way. To meet approval it must bear the author’s stamp of consent; it must be a plain, open, two-sided comparison. But as for a triple allusion, that is something that may not be formally encompassed. The third dimension must be subtly apprehended by the reader, and the solid substance of it must be mentioned discreetly,
—else everybody will rise en masse to protest. (As if the full measure of meaning robbed the primal matter of its beauty.) But it arouses suspicion, and it is more culpable to steal a meaning into something than to filch one out of it. So we are down on it. Our honest, straightforward minds will not brook such triplicity.
I was going on in that vein till I should have put myself asleep, had not Amelia started up.
“Do you know what the Egg Itself is ? There is n’t any context, except dashes and things.”
“Nothing ? no clue at all ?” I inquired.
“No. The blind woman draws the figure of the Egg Itself with her finger as she names the lot of colors of — the picture. It must be important, because it is capitalized and named twice. And that’s all. I suppose that is one of the parts that everybody is wondering about.”
“Maybe it ’s an Easter egg,” I offered.
“Silly!” she said, and kept on with her perusal. And I kept on with my thinking.
There are three sorts of people: those whose life is simply the living of it; those who yearn for expression but have not the gift; and those who can write. The first may be said to feel; the second may be said to feel and hear, but not to see. Theirs is only the rumor and shadow of joy wantoning in the wood. But to say a thing is like catching it alive. Such trappers must have sharp sight. — Hearing does not exactly locate. A thing expressed belongs to you for the first time, and there is the joy of seeing it.
”I guess I might as well begin. I don’t catch the meaning of half of it at all. Nobody does. But it is very beautiful.”
“Is it a detective story, then?”
“They always come out in the end, and this does n’t. The first part I like, though. Listen.”
She read at first rhythmically, intimately, as in pure enjoyment; and then toward the middle I noticed that she had gone into the constrained, reverend tone. I opened my eyes. Her brows drew together, with an enigma between them, as when she sometimes sticks slightly on a matter of literary faith, but makes herself say it as it is printed. I had begun to smile just at the impressive part; and as tor the hidden meanings, they kept me in a constant titillation. But I kept myself from laughing viva voce, despite their aptness in hitting the thing off. When she arrived at the place where the author’s signature used to be on all writings, her arms dropped. And the magazine, which had all the time been trying to shut up, slapped itself together. Her eyes lifted, rather vacantly, and she sat a moment in quandary. Then looking my way she saw what was left of a smile and heard a chuckle, — just as she was about to take me into the problem.
Myself had evidently become the conundrum now. She straightened up with her eyes set open as if she were making a photographic exposure on my dark interior,— looking in a purely optical way through the windows of my soul down into the obscurity where the strange sound had come from.
“Why, what is there funny about that to laugh about!”
“Funny! Why, it’s just good. I was just laughing at the way he hit off those two fellows. And the whole business. That’s them.”
“It is They,”she corrected. “But I am sure most people would not laugh at it.”
“That kind,” I rejoined, “cannot laugh at anything that is not in their own earnest lives. I was just laughing at the rap he took at those fellows. He was kind to the Editor, though.”
“What fellows? Where?”
“There where he came to in his automobile. He comes cross-country on his machine and unknowingly runs into the Garden of Literature, — all set about with trees trimmed to the form of jousting knights and peacocks, and smooth maids of honor, — inanimate things vivified, things of common day invested with imagery. Not mere trees, and therefore only realistic, nor yet purely artificial and therefore tawdry and romantic, but the real thing in a livelier guise. That is ‘Literature.’ Not only in a new form, but formal — classical. Literature is really horticultural. The showing of the romantic in the real is what it is. Literature is a combination.”
“Oh, you are pleased with your figure of speech, — the symbolism you saw.”
“My figure of speech,” I exclaimed. Did she not catch the drift of it at all ? “In that garden you have been reading about,” I continued calmly, “is the house of Imagination, with the coy little sprites, Children of the Imagination, running roundabout and in and out; and here in the House of Imagination with its curved mirrors transforming even straight edges into lines of beauty is the fantastic Fire of Imagination lighting and warming it.”
“But he doesn’t say they are that,” she protested.
“No ? And the way he has laid it over those fellows, the editor and the publisher!”
“What! The Butler and the Tenant Farmer ? Do you mean to say that ” —
“Are n’t they the only two men on the estate? Look at the story.”
“Go on. I don’t know anything about it,” she said.
“This Madden, the Butler, is a member of the Household proper —as an editor really is. But the Tenant Farmer, Turpin — shades of the highway robber! —is only commercially interested. He is always scheming a way to drag the heart out of the land, and wanting more on his overstocked back acres. A greedy man, she calls him; and the author says he is a ginger-headed giant. She says he is quite a new man — not the kind that were before him. Indeed he is; quite a modern production. But Madden is given more of a character. He is solicitous for the honor of the house, — which he is, of course. He has more than the mercenary impulse. Let’s see how it says it. ‘ Evidently a butler, solicitous for the honor of the house, and interested, probably through a maid, in the nursery.’ Only evidently a butler. Inevidently, on the other hand, he is an editor, solicitous for literature and tending the nursery of literary young hopefuls through his maid, the stenographer. Ho, ho! lie makes him more vivid every time he mentions him. The fellow accompanied the automobile to the crossroads, and having pointed the way he immediately ‘retired into the armor-plated conning-tower of his castle and walked away.’ ”
“I thought that was just a description of an English butler, but a rather queer one.”
“So it is, too,” I replied. “Any one who has sent him a little poem must recognize the armor-platedness of his personal position. And as to the editorial watchtower, I hope I do not have to explain that — it being so much to the point. This author represents himself in the story as coming out of the East” —
“Of England. The trip was in England,” said Amelia.
“True enough. But did you ever see any ‘fig trees of the lower coast’ in England ? Such a thing in the very first paragraph ought to give any one a hint of the way in which it is all to be taken.”
“I say this writer came out of the East, suddenly, in a literary vehicle that was a very automobile of modernity — a lively Pegasus of style. And he ran all unaware, so it seems, into the Garden of Literature, where lives the woman, — the beautiful blind woman who made the children come with her yearning, but cannot see them. She only feels and hears.”
“Now,” said Amelia promptly, with the air of making a thorough test of the matter, “how about those colors? He thinks something while he is trying to fix his automobile, and she tells him to stop because those colors hurt. Is there any sense in all that talk about the blind woman seeing ‘black streaks and jags across the purple,’ and ‘purple and black,’ and all that when he thinks?”
“That,” said I, “is good —the philosophy of style. Style is the submonition one gets of a writer without being able to exactly locate the reason for it — much as this woman senses the ‘colors’ she cannot be said to see. You know it is said that a man cannot put pen to paper without telling on himself; the printed page will somehow take on the hue of his mind, even though he thinks himself artfully silent in some ways and declarative in others. This writer, or automobilist, was silent of what he said inwardly about the machine. A man can see and say only himself. As the woman says, ‘They are not in the world at all. They are in you.' That is Style — the colors we show to the insight. I suppose you recognize that this is the best possible symbolism of Style.”
While Amelia hesitated to admit what she saw, I had to smile — or grin — again.
“Now you are thinking of something funny,” she ventured.
“How did you know ? Well, yes — I was. I was thinking of his mentioning a hue ‘like port wine mixed with ink.’ I wonder whether some of the English writers get the local color of self entirely from those fluids. Possibly that is what makes the ’black streaks and jags across the purple.’”
Amelia looked at me dubiously, wondering whether there were not more of me, possibly, than she had become acquainted with. But she immediately placed her finger on another lot of the black streaks and read them:—“ ‘ I was silent, reviewing that inexhaustible matter, the more than inherited (since it is also carefully taught) brutality of the Christian peoples, beside which the mere heathendom of the West Coast nigger is cleanly restraint. It led me a long distance into myself.’
“He does n’t give any clue to that, either. What is it?”
“That’s Criticism—and more.”
“And now,” said Amelia, “what does that queer part mean, — her tracing the figure of the Egg Itself, and naming all those colors when he asked her to describe the ‘picture’ as she saw it? And then he speaks of it again as ‘the Egg which it is given to very few of us to see.’ What is it ? Can’t you and I see it — if it is so important ? Why ?”
“I will try and convey it. The colors she mentioned are the spectroscopic colors into which sunlight decomposes, — the colors of the rainbow. And all together, mixed or fused, they make the white light, or Truth — which literature attempts but never accomplishes. The Egg Itself is the Sun, from which the light and these colors emanate, and from which the world itself was hatched. I daresay you never saw the Sun, did you, — or Truth ? Now do you begin to see a few things ? Now you see why he describes Style, which is no more or less than the substance of literature, as being made of colors that are ‘separate — all broken.’ That is the way she saw his thoughts. None of us speak the white light of the whole truth, but only strange patterns of the decomposed light, vagaries of color. Some of us see more of one and some more of another.”
Amelia had, I thought, begun to believe. But now she looked at me in doubt. I had probably become overconvincing. There is such a thing as being too right. It is not popular.
“But what of it ?” she inquired.
“I don’t know. They are just figures of speech.”
“I thought you might be twitting me. Tell me, then, about those tallies.”
“Ah — the old English tallies — that kept the Fire of Imagination going,” I said musingly. I resolved to attack her by the intellect no longer; I would appeal to the woman in her. I stepped into the next room. I brought back our publisher’s statement of the sales up to a certain day.
“There,” I said, “take it in your hand. An English tally, as you certainly know, was a notched stick for the purpose of keeping accounts. You could cast up your reckoning by feeling, as this blind woman did the ‘milk record.’ We know our publishers are honest, do we not ?”
“Oh, I know they are.”
“You feel that they are honest,” I said. “So it is that they keep accounts with us. We never see them, we feel that they are correct. Such tallies, then, are the faggots that keep the Fire of Imagination going; they make it leap and play and cast its distorted vagaries abroad. But of course it never brought forth the Truth, or deepened the impassioned Insight.”
Amelia arose and strolled up and down the room. Now and then I could feel a glimmer of admiration and approval.
“Now,” I said, “I might as well prepare you for the deeper waters. You see plainly enough, as everybody does, that this childless woman has a longing for children. The children are those of imagination, of yearning, for she ‘made them come.’ But she cannot see them; she is both childless and blind. All that is plain. Now, outside of this ideal place is the busy world, pictured in all its worriment. Inside the garden is a place of fantastic, distorted imagery, — what we call beautiful. And in this woman is only what she feels and knows by intuition. So there is the world of mere Experience, the world of Imagination, and the world of Insight, — of living, dreaming, and really knowing. This woman is a childless one yearning for expression, progeny — just as one who cannot write yearns to bring forth children of his fancy and see them in expression — just as all of us in the world, ‘us blindies,’ long to know the truth, but never do except we look within and abide by the longings of our nature, whole and unbroken. We cannot work it out in an arithmetic of words; it would be a shame if we had to. The three worlds are here depicted separately and apart from one another — but in mutual comment — a triple figure of speech, and triplicate. And along comes a writer. So it is principally an allegory shedding its trinity of hue and uniting in a white light on the literary life, which is the main thing illumined. The woman is principally one who yearns for expression. In the narrower sense she is literary, but in the larger sense human. She cannot write; she has no children.”
“But here is something I am curious about,” said Amelia. “What I want to know is this. Why did those little sprites, that had been avoiding him all through the story, come to him toward the end ?”
“Don’t you understand? They came to him when lie stopped tapping on the leather screen, in which way he had been calculating the cost of Turpin’s new shed. Finally he ceased his tapping and sat forgetful; and right at that point the little children that had been so coy came and made friends with him. The Inspirations came when he was not thoughtful of money. Love is the reward of unselfishness. And these little ones were the children of Love.”
“What! These sprites! I thought ” —
“Yes, she just imagined them. But there is more to it. You notice that the girl depicted outside of the garden had a child that died. And the child was what ? There was not the usual bargain beforehand, the mercenary prearrangement. It is made of that kind and put in that part of the story as a parallel to the literary children, which are the product of love and passion, not mercenary. And the poor woman of the Garden says passionately, ‘We must bear or lose.’ That is, if we do not bear we lose. It is a great bereavement not to be able to express one’s self.”
“But here is something I would rather know about,” said Amelia. “The Butler’s wife saw one of these sprites, and then it seems it was not the Blind Woman’s at all any more. She was very much surprised and grieved, it seems. She exclaims, ‘Hers! Not for me?’ Now I see no sense in that.”
“Listen.” I said. “ These little children of the Imagination, these conceptions, run all over, out of the house and roundabout in the wood. They are anybody’s and everybody’s, a common property of the race, yours and mine. We send one to the Butler’s wife, the magazine. And then we sometimes find it is not ours at all, for it has been printed; some one has seen it. And what a loss it is! And with what sore bereavement we exclaim, ‘Hers! Not for me?’ And then there is nothing to do again but go ‘walking in the wood,’ to see if we can catch another.”
“That is hard,” she mused.
“Yes,” I said, “See how it was with the automobilist. One time his machine broke down on his way thither; he was stalled. So he spread a rug, and he arranged on it pieces of his machine, which he explains are ‘ superfluous parts ’ — toys. With these he tries to coax the little children to him. But the Inspirations, the thing we have to say, will not come from fussing with our art — the technic — the poetesque uses of words, gaudy mannerisms of speech. Superfluous parts indeed. That is what they are; the ornaments and toys. Many of us have felt like this automobilist, ‘I really do not need all these things.’ They are not the essential.”
Amelia sat on the couch, thinking deeply.
“Don’t you see it all?” I inquired.
“Yes, it is the whole — business. Maybe it is all just a co—”
“I have never seen one that tended to business so thoroughly,” I remarked.
“And what of it all, anyway?” she said suddenly. “Why was there anything in it that — could n’t be understood ?”
“I don’t know. They’re just the facts in the case.”
“Hidden. Is that a writer’s business, to go and hide things ? And I knew them all, anyway. It’s just” —
“Yes. It is a detective story, I admit that. They are just figures of speech.”
“I would rather talk to you about — anything. I know all that, except when I read it. How did you figure it out so easily ? ”
“You know my motto; the way I find everything out, don’t you ?”
“Oh, yes. It is, Inquire Within.”
“That is one of the best things to do in the first place. I had done that before I read this.”
Amelia rose from the couch.
“Come,” she said, drawing up a chair. “Let us sit together and look out of the window.”